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Tuesday

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Automated Ethnography

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by Brian Haven
@ 10:47 PM

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Having past experience with ethnographic research, I certainly can attest to the unbelievable value you get from observing people. I'm shocked more companies don't do more of this, but I guess everyone is still bogged down in quantitative data. The problem is, quantitative data tells you 'what' is happening (assuming that you ask the right questions or know what to look for), but what it doesn't do is tell you 'why' people are behaving that way. A deep contextual dive can deliver insights you'd never find elsewhere.


There are a couple new kids on the block that add some interesting flavors to the qualitative research pie. I call it automated ethnography because these techniques enable a constant flow of insight from a larger sample size than you would get from traditional in situ observation.


First, there are recruited online communities. Companies like Communispace or Hive Live recruit several hundred people to join a closed community focused on a brand or subject. The service provider has staff members to maintain the community and administer tasks to learn specific things relevant to the host company. Additionally, the community members can carry on without intervention. According to Communispace, members of their communities are more active that those of open communities.


The second is a category often called Brand Monitoring. Firms include Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Cymfony (TNS Media), MotiveQuest, Umbria, Brandimensions, Visible Technoligies, and Biz360 (interactive agency VML also has a related service called SEER). These services scour online communities, forums, blogs, and other social venues to track conversations about a brand or subject. In some cases, these service providers can detect sentiment (positive, neutral, or negative) or even emotional attributes discovered through text analysis.


I'm in no way advocating that these services replace the need for good old, get your hands dirty, ethnography. On the contrary, I actually feel like they are a fantastic compliment to contextual research. What's unfortunate is that so many companies haven't been enlightened by the insights that can some from this type of research.

 

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